Socialism from Below, Not the PDPA

Against the Current No. 19, March/April 1989

Dan La Botz

IN HIS COMMENTS on Val Moghadam’s article on Afghanistan in ATC, David Finkel argues that the left should have supported neither side in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion and occupation, and that once the Soviet Union has evacuated, the left should support the Afghan Communists of the PDPA (the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan).

Finkel says he believes in a “socialism from below,” a “Third Camp Socialism” yet his conclusions lead him to neutrality in the face of imperial aggression and then to political support for a bureaucratic ruling group once the imperial invaders have withdrawn, moreover support for a quisling regime that turned over the country to foreign powers when rejected by its own people.

Such a position is not consistent with the Third Camp or the socialism-from-below politics that Finkel espouses.

Many years ago now, the Third Camp developed a slogan “Oppose Imperialism East and West,” capitalist or “Communist.” Yet, when imperialism strikes from the East, Finkel argues that the anti-imperialist forces should not be supported because they are morally objectionable and socially and politically reactionary.

Now it is true that the Afghan Moslem tribal culture with its virtual enslavement of women is particularly repugnant. Historically, of course, capitalist imperialism — British, French, German, American and all the others — was usually imposed on backward tribal societies or on religious peoples who kept their women in slavery, whether in Asia, Africa or Latin America. The British made war against tribal people all over Asia, Africa and Latin America; the Americans against Indians and Filipinos; the French against Buddhists in Vietnam and Moslems in Algeria.

The colonial peoples usually had reactionary traditions of class and sexual oppression, of racial discrimination and national chauvinism. (So did their conquerors, of course.) Where would the logic of this position on Afghanistan have put us in the age of the “white man’s burden”?

The question, as I see it, is: when the man carrying the gun rides into town on his horse (or later his tank), are you with the people or are you with the man on the horse? I thought our side was with the people, even when we thought the rulers of the people should be overthrown and the people’s society and politics should be revolutionized, either as the man on the horse was being driven out of town or as soon after he was gone as possible. I thought that was the Third Camp’s position.

The Third Camp position in Afghanistan, as I see it, is that the Soviet Union is an imperial invader and should be driven out of the country, and we should stand for the military victory of the anti-imperialist forces, the actual rebels, even though we not only do not like their politics, but are disgusted by elements of their culture.

If we do not want to support military victory to the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, will we also oppose military victory to the Catholic Nationalists in Poland fighting the Soviet Union or to Stalinists in Cuba fighting the United States because we find the morals and society and politics of Catholic Nationalists and Stalinists repugnant, which I trust we do? The Polish Catholic Nationalists have historically been anti-semitic, and the Cuban Stalinists have opposed gay liberation. Will we not support their military victory against imperialist aggression because we do not like their repugnant customs?

PDPA: Socialism From Above

Now regarding the PDPA. Socialism from below is usually counterposed to socialism from above, state socialism, the tradition of Social Democracy or the Communist Parties of the Soviet Union and those deriving from it The POPA, whether the Pareham or Khalq faction, is the paradigmatic party of socialism from above, of state socialism, of Stalinism. Jonathan Neale, a Marxist anthropologist who did extensive field research and is an expert on Afghanistan, wrote of the PDPA’s “revolution from above”:

“These [radical social] measures showed that the POPA was intent on a life and death struggle against feudalism. But they hadn’t a cat in hell’s chance. Not, as some would have it, because they made ‘mistakes’ and committed ‘excesses.’ But because they came to power through the officers and not the enlisted men. They came to power behind the backs of the peasants, not by working from the bottom up but by seizing the state and then trying to work from the top down.”

The resistance was fierce in the countryside, and writes Neale:

“Where the cadres were helpless the government turned to the police. They increasingly acted like every government before them. They had their armies of spies, their prisons, their torture chambers, their midnight killings. These were not ‘mistakes’ and ‘excesses’ as some would have us believe; they were the only way the CP [PDPA] could restrain a hostile population. But the police also failed. And then the state turned to the army, to guns and tanks and planes to bomb and strafe the villages. Police terror can be selective. Terror from the air means war between government and people.”

This was the PDPA before the Soviet invasion and occupation, though of course there were already several thousand Soviet advisors involved in helping the PDPA make war on its own people. Then the PDPA invited the Soviet Union in to tum Afghanistan into a high, dry Vietnam.

Now, when the Soviet Union leaves, we should give political support to this same party, the PDPA? This is not an uncommon position on the American left, but it is surprising and disturbing that David Finkel thinks his position is consistent with the principles of the “Third Camp” or “Socialism from Below.”

We should support the small Afghan working-class movement, the struggle for political democracy and for women’s liberation. We should support those in Afghanistan who, while resisting the Soviet invaders and the PDPA quislings, also politically oppose the Moslem reaction. There may be very few in Afghanistan who share our politics – I do not doubt that that is the case. But there are many, many more with whom we can join forces in a struggle against returning women to the past and against the imposition of Stalinism from above.

It is even possible that following the withdrawal of all Soviet forces, the overthrow of the current government and the development of a new situation, we might find ourselves coinciding in a common struggle with the Stalinists against feudalism in Afghanistan, as we sometimes find ourselves coinciding with Stalinists on issues here. But such a coinciding in position does not by any means imply political support.

In the end it is more reasonable to support the few with whom we can agree politically and the many with whom we can join forces in a struggle for democracy and women’s liberation, than to give even critical political support to the PDPA, a party with which we not only fundamentally disagree, but whose history and behavior show that it is diametrically opposed to everything we stand for.

March-April 1989, ATC 19

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